Monday 20 February 2023

The Waltzing Party

When I was in Vienna, I harboured a secret: a beautifully designed ballgown folded up in a compact square in my suitcase, wedged under a pair of comfortable ballet flats. As life is full of uncertainty and surprise, I was prepared for any eventuality that would serve as my pumpkin coach to the St Boniface Institute Ball: that Polish Pretend Son would suddenly take it into his head to carry his family off to Minsk instead, or that Godling would revolt and seek refuge with her grandparents, or that Polish Daughter-in-Law would be summoned to the Eastern Borderlands to smooth out some family wrinkle. Happily, none of these possibilities hardened into actuality, and meanwhile I had yesterday's Waltzing Party to look forward to. 

Some background:

Ambitious Plan #1

I seem to recall positing in Seraphic Singles the Blog that older, married Catholics should organize social activities for the younger, unmarried faithful. And indeed a few years ago one of the parish mothers and I agreed that it would be a very good thing to organize a ball for all the Trad families scattered across Great Britain, so that the Trad young could meet each other under amusing circumstances in the company of their parents. (I read many Georgette Heyer novels; can you tell?) My friend's lively, pretty daughters, then in their teens, agreed. Unfortunately, I never worked out how it could be done without great expense, bother, and fuss. 

Ambitious Plan #2 

Then before the Covid crisis, as I believe we call it at work, a local Austrian friend disclosed to me that he would like to take a group from our community to waltzing lessons and then carry them off on a pilgrimage to Vienna's waltzing season. I thought this was a splendid idea, but then the lamps started going off all over Europe, as it were, and any waltzes to speak of went underground. 

Not-quite-as-ambitious Plan 

Now the lamps have been lit again and the waltzes have come back upstairs and, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, our local Austrian friend gave me an impromptu dance lesson. So I lost my head and said aloud that it would be lovely to have a party in which the young people could learn to waltz, and our Austrian friend agreed, and some parents also agreed.  

I was asked about it the next Sunday before a young person, and when I explained to the young person what I had proposed, her face lit up like a spring dawn. So I rolled up my sleeves and wrote to various authorities, including the safeguarding officer, to book the parish hall. I did this as a private person, quite independent of our chaplains, following the model of people who book the hall for christening parties and wedding receptions. To underscore the privateness/independence of the party, I wrote out 19 invitations including 29 people, and to underscore my sterlingness of character and cover any official objections, I impressed upon the mothers of any invited guest under 18 that they had to come, too. The invitations I left to our new dancing master to distribute while I was in Vienna. 

Meanwhile, I wrote a goodly number of emails to those governing the parish hall, followed up with a telephone call as time wore on, sent the completed, scanned application form to authority, paid the fee, bought a bottle of squash and a bag of coffee, made a cake, and noted that only a tiny remnant had yet sent RSVPs. I chalked this up to RSVPs being unusual for the Facebook--let alone the Snapchat--generation.  

However, on Sunday morning after After-Mass Tea while the boys were stacking chairs, my old friend Anxiety took me by the hand, gazed into my eyes with false compassion, and asked where all the girls were. The alarm clock on my phone went off at 2:29 PM, and the parish hall corridor suddenly filled with young men of various heights in sharp suits of various materials. There seemed to be a dozen of them. (In fact, there were 11.) And in the hall itself were exactly five young ladies and two mother-chaperones.  

Aghast I rushed into the car park and pulled out my phone. Where were my friend's lively, pretty daughters? (My friend didn't answer, so I couldn't find out.) Where were the Xs, and where was Y? Was some girl I had momentarily forgotten perhaps coming up the road? But no, she was not. 

It seemed to be as I feared. The TLM demographics--which I thought had improved so much--had defeated me. For years the fact that vastly more men than women go to our TLM--a trend not replicated in any other mixed-sex Catholic community that I can think of--amused me. Yesterday I did not think it very amusing. 

However, I managed to pull myself together and remember that God is in charge, so I went back into the hall, appealed to the mother-chaperones' inner debutantes, and we had our party. It began with Austrian Dancing Master bellowing "SILENCE!" at the top of his lungs, which made everybody giggle.

There followed an hour outside our collective comfort zone as the long line of young men and the shorter line of women watched the Dancing Master's steps and tried to replicate them. The first figure was the box step, which wasn't so bad, and then we were asked to pair up and dance it together. And as I was dancing, I looked to the left at all my dancing guests, and Anxiety disappeared. I realized then that everything was fine, and I had nothing to worry about except putting my feet in the right place.

There followed the Right Turn and then the Left Turn, danced to slow pop "waltzes" so saccharine that my partners and I blinked at each other. In vain did I ask for classical music, for whom we were not worthy or ready or something. It was Dancing Master's first time teaching a dance class, so he was a bit harried. We both certainly learned a lot about teaching waltzing, and when we do this again, I will (with their consent) put big red stickers on all the ladies' left shoulder blades to indicate Your Hand Here.

There was a 20 minute break for tea, coffee, squash and snacks, and then we learned--or at any rate were taught--how to transition between the Right Turn and the Left Turn. Those who had partners this time gave it the old college try, and then--after tumultuous applause for the Dancing Master and a kindly round for me--the party disintegrated into a montage of putting the tables back, washing all the dishes, and hoovering the cake crumbs. There was, you see, a Confirmation Class at 5 PM. 

Afterwards my guests dispersed or stood outside the hall in a cozy group chatting, and after locking the hall I took Dancing Master out for a drink. Apparently six guests or so had asked that there be another waltzing party after Easter Sunday, so I think--despite the demographic problem, which I will solve if it kills me--the party was a success. 


Friday 17 February 2023

"Freezing breath on a window pane"

WARNING: Long and detailed.

So the title is a line from Ultravox's "Vienna", Benedict Ambrose's favourite song of 1980. Sadly, B.A. did not come with me to Vienna last week, for he needed to work on his studies. Thus, I navigated the train route from Vienna International Airport to the Café Tirolerhof all by myself. Happily I did not buy the wrong tickets or choose the wrong train or get lost or even panic when my ticket didn't fit in the validation machine. (It wasn't supposed to.) When I popped out of the wrong side of Wien Mittel station, I admired the cathedral (Stephansdom) before me and then turned around to find the route I had carefully memorized on the train. 


That was Thursday late afternoon, hours before Polish Pretend Son and family were supposed to arrive or Vienna Host was to leave his workplace. Vienna was indeed very cold (as in the song), but it was a dry, refreshing cold. The buildings around all seemed to be beautiful and every corner charming and full of promise. The Café Tirolerhof, with its uniformed waiters, well-dressed elderly ladies, white-washed walls, woodwork, banquettes and newspapers on sticks, was very much like the Vienna cafes B.A. and I had seen on YouTube.

I should mention here that, being deficient in knowledge about Vienna, Austria, and the Hapsburg Empire, I watched a fair amount of improving television shows and YouTube episodes before arriving. I am glad I did because I was in town for the St. Boniface Institute's Catholic Resistance conference and was thus around people who talked a lot about all the above. Also, I knew I could sit as long as I liked in the café and was not even nonplussed when the waiter shouted "Bitte, bitte" at me while slamming down my apple strudel, for I had been warned that the Viennese can be rude. And the waiter soon ceased to be rude, perhaps because I was joined by my Austrian colleague and then by my Viennese Host, who was not Alexander Tschugguel, in case you are wondering, but impressive all the same.  

But of course I did see Alexander Tschugguel at the evening's reception, which was about a half-hour's walk away from Café T in the meeting rooms of some pious or scholarly club. I had toddled along with my colleague and my friend after paying for my coffee and strudel, and duly noted the golden back of the statue of Strauss in the Stadtpark when it was pointed out to me. I admired alone the marvellous baroque buildings lining the streets, my companions remarking that they had got used to them. 

The clubrooms were at the top of some stairs in an amazingly old building and full of young men in Austrian jackets and of young women in skirts. There was also tobacco smoke and glasses of wine and A.T. saying "I know exactly who you are!" I was introduced to two of the conference speakers, one of whom had wanted to meet me and the other happy to chat about U.S. politics, and eventually Polish Pretend Son turned up with his wife and my god-daughter, who also knew exactly who I was. PPS sniffed the air and rushed back down to his car to get his smoking gear. I fetched a Polish storybook from my suitcase because there was very little in the adult (if rather young), German-and-English-speaking party of interest to my god-daughter. Poor tired Polish Pretend Daughter-in-law began to read it to her.


The evening ended after midnight at my Viennese Host's beautiful flat in the northwest of the city. I was given a little white minimalist bedroom that was very restful and conducive to sleep. The PPS family got the principal bedroom, and Godling got a mattress her parents had brought all the way from Poland in the car. We all went to bed very late, and it was noon before we got to the conference and discovered it was now lunchtime. (How happy I am this was not a work trip and that the duty of being on time fell to my colleague instead.) As it was Friday and we couldn't find fish nearby, we all went to the Café Tirolerhof, which at least had non-meat options, and cluttered it up with a stroller. 

The PPS family is extremely anti-carb, so as people familiar with Austrian cooking can imagine, there was quite a fuss, and the appearance of noodles with scrambled eggs caused much dismay. For my part I had creamed spinach with a fried egg and rosti potatoes, and the lesson I took from this is that it takes some planning to eat out in Vienna on Fridays.

After a visit to an eyewateringly expensive men's tailor shop, where Godling could not be dissuaded from playing with the umbrellas, we all went back to the conference. Gabrielle Kuby gave one lecture, Charles Coulombe gave another, and a repentant doctor the last. And then, if I remember correctly, it was time for dinner, so we went to the Naschmarkt, where there was another grand fuss although noodles were avoided. Back in the elegant flat, where Mr. Coulombe had been given a sofa-bed in a small but book-lined office with a parlour palm, cocktails were made and cigars came out, and I anticipated another late start on Saturday morning. 

(I am suddenly reminded that I am to tell a local priest that Mr. Coulombe sends his regards.)


On Saturday morning, though, I decided I was the captain of my ship and mistress of my fate and rushed off into the cold, sunny morning to get to the conference by myself. It took two trams and a short walk, and I got lost for only 5 minutes, and there were jugs of coffee outside the lecture room. The repentant doctor told the story of her conversion, which was very moving, and then Alexander T. gave a lecture on the Cardinal Virtues, which was very edifying. Then we milled about before we were driven out into the street to be given a short tour encompassing a few churches (e.g. the Franciscan, the Jesuit, the Teutonic Knights [?]) and then led down into a restaurant's ancient cellar where 35 of us or so, including now  Viennese Host and the PPS family, waited and were never served.

This was a new level of Viennese waiter rudeness. In fact, when a waiter did turn up and take my party's drinks orders (after an hour or more), another waiter came and shouted at him. Our waiter said something in protest, gesturing to our table, and the shouty waiter shouted "DU MUSST!" So that was the last we saw of our waiter for some time. When he came back with a laden tray, he noted that half the company had left, exclaimed something later translated for me as "I can't do everything," and went back upstairs with his tray. At that moment, PPS lost his temper, Godling, putting salt in her eyes, began to scream, and chaos reigned.

In the end, poor Viennese Host, the PPS family and I ended up in the Café Englander, where we were greeted at once, given drinks within a few minutes, and served Weiner schnitzel with lemon and other delicious things.  

The St. Boniface Institute hosted a ball this evening, and now I fear I will disappoint my readers by confessing that I did not go to this classic Viennese delight but instead stayed in the elegant flat to baby-sit Godling. The men of the temporary household decked themselves out in white tie and tails. Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law arranged her hair and put on a beautiful dark blue ballgown. Then off they all went, leaving the poor Polish child in the hands of Perfidious Albion. Naturally, Godling was more than a match for me; somehow I found myself reading four stories instead of the agreed-upon two, and giving her a glass of water because I couldn't remember what her mother had said about this. 


I was punished for my lapse of memory at about 1:30 AM when I was awoken by heart-rending screeching. "Ciociu! Ciociu!" wailed a voice outside my bedroom door. Outside it I found Godling in an absolute state of grief and remorse, and it wasn't until she led me back (still shrieking) to the master bedroom and handed me a dry diaper that I realized what had happened. 

So I attached the dry diaper and dispensed with the wet one and read the poor child another story and lay down on her mother's side of the bed to wait for her to fall asleep.

"I want water," said the precious monster in her native tongue.

"No," I said in that language.

"Yes. I want water."

"If I give you water," I said very slowly because remembering how to form the Polish conditional after being woken up from a deep sleep at 1:30 AM is taxing, "you will make siusiu again."

Godling seemed to admit this was so, for she said no more about it.

On Sunday I made another break for morning freedom by going to the local bakery, where I discovered that the lady behind the counter knows no English, that she doesn't take debit cards, and that all the bakery German I learned 17 years ago has disappeared. However, she did take my 100 euro note, so I arrived triumphantly back at the flat with the best danish I have ever eaten in my life.

Then there was an hour of packing the PPS automobile, including with me, and some fuss about who was taking a cab to Mass and who was going in the car. Amazingly, the PPS family, its stuff, Viennese Host and I all fit. On our way to the Oratorians, we passed the world's most beautiful trash incinerator (Spittelau), which has a golden ball on the top. And when we got to the Oratorians there was another fuss about parking, so Viennese Host told me sottovoce to make a break for it. Thus I found myself clambering into an ornate wooden pew in the back of yet another glorious baroque church just after the Kyrie.

This is where I would remark that one wonderful thing about Mass is that it is "the same all over the world" if that were really true. At any rate, for us it was the good old TLM with the Epistle and Gospel read over again in the Vernacular, which I also did not understand, followed by what was probably a very sound homily in the Vernacular, during which I prayed two decades of the Rosary. 

After Mass there was a lot of greeting and farewell and photo-taking amongst the participants in the Conference, and then Viennese Host, the PPS family, Mr. Coloumbe and I found an Austrian restaurant and ate goulash, schnitzel and such other meaty stuff. After paying up, the PPS family and I said goodbye to Viennese Host and Mr C, and we went to the airport, where PPS dropped me off. 

So that is my lightning account of my 72 hours in Vienna, and the only other thing I can think of to say is that I worried beforehand that I would reflexively respond to waiters et al in Polish instead of English, and I was right.